Just beyond the fence to the East Wake tennis courts, a solitary rooster crowed for much of the match from a neighbor’s side yard.
The creature’s incessant chant failed to signal in the dawn of a new era in the Greater Neuse River Conference standings.
Instead, a status quo four years in the making prevailed once again Wednesday as Clayton’s boys squad won its 55th consecutive league match with a 9-0 decision over the host Warriors. The Comets’ dominance of the GNRC this spring includes zero individual matches lost to go with a perfect 8-0 team record. Clayton is also unbeaten overall this season under 19-year head coach Kenneth Stivason.
“It really helped us when a (nearby) tennis club opened up,” Stivason said of his program’s development. “We get talented kids in here as freshmen who know how to play. Right now, we have three senior starters who have been with us a long time, and that really helps.”
None are better than Klein Evans, who has been the Comets’ No. 1 Singles player since he first stepped on campus as a 9th-grader. Now an experienced veteran, Evans is undefeated in 2016 after reaching the 4A state finals as a junior. The right-hander, whose game is adaptable to both the net and along the baseline, has signed with the University of Richmond.
“It’s been a good ride while helping prepare me for college tennis,” Evans said. “I have been able to build my leadership skills. There is also a responsibility to help keep (Clayton’s dynasty) going right along.”
During Wednesday’s match, Evans took less than 30 minutes to defeat East Wake’s Jake Clement by a 6-0, 6-0 score. And in doubles, Evans teamed with N.C. Central signee Brooks Campbell – the Comets’ No. 3 Singles standout – to top Clement and Brooks Stancil, 8-1.
Evans and Campbell have never lost a doubles match together.
Not that Evans drops many matches, period, but one setback has stayed with him over the past year: a three-set heartbreaker to Middle Creek’s Nick Stachowiak in the 2015 singles state championship contest.
Ironically, Evans and Stachowiak have been practice partners since they were children, and they even teamed up to play doubles at several youth tournaments while growing up. Evans knows he could encounter Stachowiak, a Duke University signee, in both regional and state competition once again this season.
“We still hit together about three times a week,” Evans said. “I’ve been playing with Nick pretty much my whole life. We’ve talked about our match last year with the guys we train with, but not with each other. I had my chances. I’m hungry to see how it plays out this year.”
Said Stivason: “Klein has gotten taller and is a little stronger this year. I think he has closed the gap on Nick, but Nick is still probably the player to beat.”
The Evans family pedigree won’t be completed when Klein graduates later this spring. Just when GNRC opponents thought they could attack a Comets’ lineup without an Evans near the top, they found out that Banks Evans is a talented ninth-grader at Clayton who has already worked his way up to No. 2 Singles in the Comets’ loaded lineup.
“Banks might not have the power that Klein does, but he is a smart player,” Stivason said. “He is very crafty.”
Another postseason emphasis for the Comets will be to reach the third round of the 4A dual team playoffs – a goal that has eluded them for the past two campaigns.
“The problem is that, the way the brackets are drawn up, we will see the top team from the (Southwest Wake Athletic Conference) or the (Cap-8 Conference) in the second round,” Stivason said. “I feel like we can play with those teams with the top of our lineup, but we will still be the underdog.”
That’s a role Jackson Glasgow has embraced during his six-year coaching tenure at East Wake. Unlike most other Wake County coaches, Glasgow welcomes in freshmen with limited tennis experience and works with them to become better players. The formula has worked as the Warriors (8-3 overall, 6-2 GNRC) have finished in second place in the conference behind Clayton for three consecutive seasons.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we are competitive in our matches and we are beating teams that we are supposed to,” said Glasgow, a former court letterwinner at East Wake. “I remember when I first started playing here. I didn’t know much about tennis but got hooked. It’s nice for me to be able to teach kids about the sport I love and to be able to have an impact like that.”